/ Motoring

MOT test checklist – can these simple checks help you pass?

Graphic showing cars

MOT failures caused by simple problems could be costing UK drivers £82m a year. Can you spare two minutes to give your car a better chance to pass its next MOT test?

So, it’s MOT time for your car, and you’re petrified it’s going to fail.

The truth is, you’re right to be worried – around 40% of cars fail their MOT test. But all too often the failure is caused by very minor issues.

In fact, the most common reasons for MOT failures in 2011 were all pretty trivial: lighting and signalling (164,837 failures), tyres (96,760) and headlight aim (82,555).

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) is now urging car owners to spend a minute or two checking their car before its MOT test, claiming you could save a lot of money if you do.

The SMMT thinks the number of MOT failures that could be cut as a result of these simple checks is 1.5m each year. With the current MOT fee standing at £54.85, that’s potentially more than £82m being spent unnecessarily by UK drivers every year.

10 checks to save you from an MOT test fail

So what’s included in the SMMT’s two-minute pre-MOT test checklist? The 10 checks are:

1. Headlights and indicators working
2. Brake lights working
3. Number plate legible
4. Wheels and tyres legal
5. Seats and seatbelts undamaged
6. Windscreen undamaged
7. Windscreen wipers effective
8. Screenwash topped up
9. Horn working
10. Fuel and engine oil levels sufficient

Another one I’d add is your dashboard instruments. As of March 2013, MOT testers also look for illuminated or non-functioning dashboard warning lights, such as the power steering indicator and brake fluid warning lamp. So check your lights all come on then go off when you turn the ignition. Another new check is that your speedometer is working.

Doing MOT checks yourself

But would you actually do these checks yourself? The design of most modern cars does not make owner maintenance easy, and many drivers shun working on their cars, preferring to leave checks to the professionals.

If that sounds like you, there’s some good news. You probably don’t even need to do these checks yourself. The SMMT has persuaded every car manufacturer in the UK to offer assistance to customers who are unsure about carrying out the checks themselves – so you can probably persuade your local main dealer to do it for you.

Which checks do you complete before your MOT test? You can pick multiple answers

Headlights and indicators working (11%, 399 Votes)

Brake lights working (11%, 384 Votes)

Windscreen wipers effective (10%, 375 Votes)

Wheels and tyres legal (10%, 372 Votes)

Number plate legible (10%, 359 Votes)

Windscreen undamaged (10%, 353 Votes)

Screenwash topped up (9%, 341 Votes)

Horn working (9%, 332 Votes)

Seats and seatbelts undamaged (8%, 300 Votes)

Fuel and engine oil levels sufficient (8%, 291 Votes)

I don't do any checks before my MOT test (3%, 110 Votes)

Total Voters: 528

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I think SMMT should be encouraging people to carry out these checks weekly. Vehicles need to be in a safe condition at all times and not just before the MOT test.

It’s odd that they have pointed out the need to check certain external lights but not others. Perhaps SMMT compiled its list before warning light checks were introduced, but Chris is right. It is very worrying that some people drive around with these things on. Even if the warning light is giving a false indication, how will the driver know if a real fault develops?

I suppose that a competent garage would refuse to do an emissions test with insufficient oil in the engine, but perhaps there are more important things to check than the fuel level.

The SMMT checklist is much more helpful than their list of headings that has been used for the multiple answer poll.

One of the points covered is checking that seat belts lock if given a sharp tug. Though I check the driver’s seatbelt regularly, I admit to not having done this for the passengers’ seatbelts. I did with my first car that had inertia reel seatbelts but not after that.

Please could you fix the survey, which allows for selection of only one answer at present. Thanks.

They should employ a good software tester – I can be available for a fee 😉

Fixed 🙂

I am astonished that [at the time of writing this] nearly a third of owners who responded to the quick poll do no checks at all before their MoT exam. Only a half made sure their lights and indicators were working!

A lot has changed since you posted, John. It illustrates how a small sample size can be unrepresentative.

I expect that some people will have marked all the boxes without spotting that the last one is ‘I don’t do any checks before my MOT test’. I nearly did that myself, and that question should really have been first in the list to help avoid mistakes. Thanks to recent improvements in the website, we should be able to see which answers we selected in multiple answer questions – the answers chosen previously will be in bold italics.

I expect that when the poll is closed we will discover that most of those participating are more careful about checking their cars than the average motorist.

It’s interesting that your survey shows the top thing people do before the MOT is to check their headlights. I took my car for an MOT knowing that one of the headlamps had blown. As I expected, they failed the MOT, then changed the bulb, fitting it for free and giving me a free re-test. It is notoriously difficult to change a headlamp bulb in modern cars, and this way of changing it was much cheaper than getting fitted at Halfords!

Hmmm – break the law, risk being stopped by the police and possibly endanger lives, to save the cost of having a bulb fitted. Is that really what you are advocating, Clint?

Not at all. A new light bulb would have necessitated a trip to a spares shop, same distance as the MOT garage, and I drove in full daylight on a known route that didn’t have any dark tunnels/bridges etc.

OK. I’ve given my comment the ‘thumbs down’. But a lot of drivers drive round for weeks or months with faulty lights.

Clint Kirk says:
4 April 2013

No need to do that, wavechange. You had a valid point, given the information you had at the time you made it. So I’ve given you a thumbs-up to even it up 😉

Bob James says:
4 April 2013

“In fact, the most common reasons for MOT failures in 2011 were all pretty trivial: lighting and signalling (164,837 failures), tyres (96,760) and headlight aim (82,555).”

Perhaps thinking that tyre faults are “pretty trivial” its indicative of many peoples thinking, we have just had another in which failed for a defective tyres, insufficient tread, of course in the wet the owner could just use the car in front as a means of stopping…. as long as its not mine.

It is hard to understand how in such a short time so many people have become so apathetic about checking their vehicles, these figures demonstrate that at any one time around 40% of vehicles on the road are unsafe.

L2 says:
4 April 2013

I’d get the dealer to do a pre mot check. They couldn’t do my MOT as here in Northern Ireland, we have to go to a council MOT centre. I would always make sure all the things listed above are correct anyway, as its important to do so, not just check things for MOT time.

Surely a lot of people have the MOT at the same time and same place as the annual service, in which case it will never fail the MOT, either because it has been serviced correctly and will pass or a fault is so bad the car is scrapped and it never gets MOTed.

Clint Kirk says:
4 April 2013

I used to do that too, but my preference is to have the MOT a month before the tax is due. That way, if the car fails the MOT, before I pay loads of money on road tax I have a month to decide if it’s worth repairing it, selling it, or scrapping it. Sadly, most of the time the MOT is due up to a month *after* the tax, because when I buy a second-hand car from a dealer (I never buy new cars as they depreciate too much) the dealer usually supplies it with a year’s tax and MOT. The tax runs from the beginning of the month (so drivers pay for time they haven’t used, how unfair is that) while the MOT is from the exact date of the test.

It is very common to have a vehicle serviced before carrying out an MOT test and some MOT failure points will be rectified. That means that percentage of vehicles taken for servicing and MOT is even higher than 40%.

It is important to realise that an MOT failure is not necessarily dangerous. A cracked lamp will not be a danger until moisture damages a headlamp reflector or corrodes the bulb connections. A damaged number plate is not dangerous, and so on. Nevertheless, it is right that such points are covered in the MOT test.

I support what Bob James has said about defective tyres. Anyone driving on bald tyres is not fit to drive a car.

Bob James says:
6 April 2013

There are many misconceptions on what constitutes an MOT “RfR” (reason for rejection), a cracked or damaged headlight lens may cause a problem when headlight aim is tested ie part of the reflected beam is beyond allowed parameters, in other words be blinding other drivers.
Water landing on a hot bulb can cause immediate bulb failure.

The rfr’s for number plates are based around their readability, this could be seen as an important factor when a dangerous or dangerously driven vehicle needs to be identified on the road.

MOT testers are generally sensible folk and are well regulated but are not allowed to work on vehicles during a test (apart from minor adjustments to such thing as headlight aim).
I do not know of any normal service which includes a test on brake rollers or on the emissions equipment, even after having a vehicle serviced there are items unchecked which may cause a MOT failure certificate to be issued.

One other point there are a number of MOT stations here in England which are not service centres and do not carry parts or spares.

If your car is equipped for towing, also make sure the connections for the lights on the caravan or trailer are working, which are also tested from March. My car has just failed on this. It turned out the relay needed resetting after I had a new battery fitted recently, and it only needed the fuse taking out and replacing to reset it.

Bob James says:
6 April 2013

Good point, this test does not include the older 7 pin sockets but revised inspection of the towbar mounting are also now included.


A car can be submitted for an MOT test up to a month before the previous test expires. If it passes the expiry date will be forward-dated to a year after expiry of the previous MOT, so effectively you can have an MOT valid for up to 13 months.

I have always done this in case my car failed and I wanted to do the repairs myself, but I assume that it would be illegal to drive the car (and the insurance would be invalidated) even though the previous MOT had not expired.

Please can you explain the rules.

Bob James says:
6 April 2013

Once you have been issued with an MOT failure certificate it becomes the current certificate and invalidates any previously issued certificate, in such circumstances it is possible to effectively reduce the duration of a current MOT if the vehicle is no longer viable.

Thanks Bob. It’s good when the law agrees with what seems to be commonsense. 🙂

Clint Kirk says:
6 April 2013

Bob, strictly speaking what you said is not correct. Technically, the old MOT is still valid. In fact, a garage once told me that they don’t even notify VOSA of MOT failures – they only update the database when it passes. However, you could be prosecuted for knowingly driving an unroadworthy vehicle (and in fact this is true at any time, not just when it fails an MOT.) For more information, see this website:

As an example, several years ago I had an old car that failed its MOT because it had failed the exhaust emissions test. It was uneconomical to fix (would have cost more than the car itself was worth) and I had a month left on the previous MOT, so I continued to drive it while I advertised on eBay for sale for spare parts. A mechanic bought it and drove it away. I feel that morally it was ok, because it was not unsafe, it was just polluting a little bit more than it should, but probably not as much as a 4×4 Chelsea tractor with a 4.2 litre V8 engine that had just passed the MOT with flying colours.

I agree with the SMMT’s two-minute pre-MOT test ten point checklist, but this is not something you should do only as you approach the date of your MOT. These are the very basic things every driver should be looking at every couple of weeks or every 500 or 600 miles.

I despair how so many drivers use their cars (something that could kill you or worse others) in the same apathetic way they use a washing machine or a vacuum cleaner.

John Walker says:
2 November 2014

I am confused about the EML (Engine Management Light) failure. Some people are telling me it is not a failure and others say they THINK it may be. Can you shed some light on this please.

The engine management light is not an MOT failure.

Only warning lights that relate to safety systems (e.g. brakes, stability control, tyre pressure) will cause the car to fail if they remain illuminated.

John Walker says:
3 November 2014

Tim thanks for your response. Do you know if the rule is different in N Ireland? or are you referring to N Ireland rules?

S. Freud says:
2 January 2016

Dear Mr. Wavechange,

Clearly, through your heated debates, it is clear to see, that you are slightly bored with your life, and have nothing better to do, than just sit here and scrutinise others. As a psychologist, I can see that these may be signs of potentially high neurotic traits, and this may be deemed as unhealthy for your personal wellbeing. I may be viewed as intrusive, however I would highly recommend you seek professional help, in order to work on these issues, helping you work towards a better and healthier way of life. (E.g. learning to make friends, creating relationships, detaching your unhealthy bond with the online world, etc.)

Thank you.


Read Luke 6:42.

Some urgent revision needed on the id, ego and super-ego differentiation!

Hi Mr. Freud – I’m sure you are right that I spend too long on this website, but I have had a bit of a break over the Christmas period, when I was too busy meeting up with friends I see only once a year.

Any thoughts on ensuring that your car will pass the MOT?

For shame! How dare you demean our oldest and most prolific contributor. Wavechange IS Which Conversation’s oracle and deserves our respect for his loyalty to the site and his vast knowledge, which continues to delight, and enlighten.